Football Features

“The Red Devils aren’t scary any more” – Winners & Losers as Everton more than match Man Utd to earn 1-1 draw

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 15:08, 2 October 2021

In an end-to-end afternoon football, Everton held Manchester United to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.

The Toffees could even have won it late with a Yerry Mina goal that was ruled out for offside.

Who were the winners and losers?

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Winner: Rafa Benitez

No Dominic Calvert-Lewin, no Richarlison, no Alex Iwobi, no Seamus Coleman. Yet despite those missing men, Everton rocked up to Old Trafford and took Manchester United head on. They played with more confidence and coherence than their hosts and engaged in a back-and-forth game where they stifled United well and, frankly, could have won the game.

Everton had 12 shots to United’s 13, they more than held their own in the game and that’s down to Benitez’s brilliant man-management and tactical gameplan. This wasn’t quite as spectacular as the 1-4 win that Benitez masterminded at Old Trafford back in 2009, but it was Everton’s third draw here and their most impressive in terms of coherence and reproducability given who was missing.

The impact Benitez has already had on Everton can be best seen through the mentality display by Andros Townsend in his post-match interview where he said that “yes we’re delighted [with the draw] but on another day it could be three points.”

Townsend then address Benitez’s impact directly, saying: “he never gives you a pat on the back, he always wants more.” And that kind of perfectionism, that demand for brilliance, is why that as long as he is backed by the owners, Rafa Benitez will take Everton places.

Loser: Manchester Unied’s midfield

This should come as a surprise to precisely no one but Manchester United’s midfield is absolutely terrible. And to be clear, in a 4-2-3-1 the midfield is only the guys in the double pivot, the magnificent Bruno Fernandes is not part of that nonsense unit.

Today it was Fred and Scott McTominay, but the midfield could have included Nemanja Matic or even the brilliant Paul Pogba (there’s also Donny van de Beek but we don’t talk about him). There is no combination that works, save for Pogba and Matic on occasion when the Serbian manages to roll back the years, which is understandable rare.

McTominay and Fred were poor against Everton. They didn’t really have a control on the ball to allow United to run consistent attacks with a shape and structure to them. Nor did they really defend well as Everton had plenty of chances to run at the United back-line.

Everton’s equaliser was a screaming example ofyh4  just how weak United’s midfield is as Fred twice tried and failed to win the ball from Demarai Gray and then Scott McTominay was so slow to track back and cover midfield, meaning that Gray could release Abdoulaye Doucoure running straight onto the United defence, and he then found Townsend to score.

Manchester United have attacking firepower like few others around Europe, but the damage they can do with that firepower is limited because their midfield routinely fails to control games and sometimes even fails to protect the defence, which is ostensibly the one thing they actually are good at (in truth they only excel at this in a low block). If United are to win anything, they need to upgrade their midfield.

Winner: Andros Townsend

Last season Andros Townsend scored a massive goal for Crystal Palace as they won at Old Trafford. It was his only goal of the season and when he finally joined Everton this summer for free, there were no big waves being made.

But Towsend has started the season in really sharp form, and today against United he was brilliant. He ran the break brilliantly, won the ball back relentlessly, and had the most shots in the game (4) including, you know, scoring a huge equaliser.

He even hit Cristiano’s trademark celebration after, although he insists it was a tribute. “I grew up watching Cristiano Ronaldo, spent hours on the training pitch trying to execute his techniques – maybe should have spent a bit longer on the celebration because it wasn’t great execution – it was a bit of respect to Cristiano.”

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Loser: Luke Shaw

After Alex Telles’ goalscoring heroics against Villarreal, it was genuinely a shock to see Luke Shaw back in the starting XI against Everton. And in truth the Englishman played like someone who isn’t quite at 100% fitness yet, which is what he is.

That lack of sharpness meant that Shaw wasn’t as effective as he usually is in attack, which is an issue given how notoriously uncreative the United starting XI was today. And then after all that, Shaw’s defending on the Everton equaliser was an absolute disaster. Instead of holding his flank and allowing Raphael Varane to deal with Abdoulaye Doucoure, Shaw raced across like a madman, allowing Doucoure to slip by him with ease and play Andros Townsend, now in acres of space, in to score.

Not the best from Luke Shaw.

Winner: Bruno Fernandes

There weren’t many Manchester United players to emerge with credit from the draw with Everton, but Bruno Fernandes was one of the few. The Portuguese superstar was constantly driving United forward with his passes and runs, and even made the most tackles for the team.

Fernandes has been the best player in the Premier League since he signed, and today picked up his 20th assist with a gorgeously deft pass to set-up Anthony Martial. That’s 20 assists and 50 goals in the Premier League since he signed. An absolute tyrant of a midfielder.

Loser: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Take away the euphoria of the late winners against West Ham and Villarreal, and Manchester United’s football over the last month has been as dismal and depressing as any other elite side across Europe.

Since obliterating Newcastle (a result and performance that had more red flags than the crowd at Anfield when Liverpool play United) The Red Devils have won just twice in six games, losing three times and drawing today against Everton.

United just never had a real control of the game. They overwhelmed Everton with intensity at the start of each half but had no structure of play to sustain said intensity, so it predictably fizzled out and Everton had plenty of fun on the break. Then besides Sancho his subs didn’t really work, primarily because there didn’t seem to be a consistent plan to get balls into the box. That they could magick up just the one chance for Jadon Sancho instead of the typical avalance you expect when teams are protetcing a lead at Old Trafford was so indicative of the fact that the Red Devils just aren’t scary anymore.

This kind of form and performance is miserable, especially given the standard of opponent and the fact that their upcoming games look significantly more brutal with trips to Leicester, Atalanta and Spurs plus home games against Atalanta, Liverpool and Manchester City.

Solskjaer needs to hope and pray someone clicks for his team soon (perhaps Marcus Rashford will return and save him, like he has saved the children of this country over and over again) or he’s else he’s in for a decidedly spooky Halloween.


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